Troubleshooting Your Sourdough Starter
There are no bubbles in my starter – Your starter probably needs to be fed. Yeast can only produce carbon dioxide if it has a source of sugar to consume. Feed you starter with equal weight flour and water.
I fed my starter and there are still no bubbles or rise – If your starter is new continue to feed it based on the timeline instructions above. Hopefully within 14 days you will see signs of the yeast and bacteria colonizing, becoming stronger and more active. If the starter has been refrigerated for a long period of time it may take several feedings to “wake up”.
There is grey or brown liquid on the top of my stater – This liquid is called “hootch”. It is a byproduct of an underfed over-fermented starter. It will smell strongly of alcohol and while unpleasant in appearance, cannot hurt you. You can pour it off and discard half of your starter before re-feeding or stir it back into the starter for a very strong sour flavor.
There is mold on my starter – Unfortunately mold spores can contaminate a starter through the flour, water or air. In this case, it is best to discard the contaminated starter, wash all sourdough utensils thoroughly and replace it with a fresh starter. Keep your new starter as active as possible. The production of acids in the fermenting process will prohibit mold growth.
My starter smells like alcohol – When all the sugars in the flour have been consumed the acids will start to become alcoholic. A starter that smells strongly of alcohol needs to be fed! Feed your starter with equal weights flour and water.
My starter is bubbly but it won’t rise bread – In the early stages of sourdough baking this can be a real problem. It happens to all of us. A sourdough starter needs to be used often, fed often and kept at a warm room temperature.
First, feed your starter with double feeding for three days.
Second, make sure to remove starter every time before feeding. This will give the remaining yeast more food sources and it will encourage the strong yeast to multiply.
Third, make sure you’re storing your starter in a warm environment that encourages the fermentation process. If you keep your house cool, try placing your starter or bread dough in the oven with the light on. Warming mats can also be purchased or dehydrators with a very low setting can work as well.
Troubleshooting Your Bread Dough
My dough is too sticky during the mixing stage – 1. is your starter 100% hydration? If not, it may have a higher hydration than the recipe that you are trying to duplicate. Check the recipe instructions to find out if your suppose to have a starter or leaven at a specific hydration. Most of my recipes call for starter at 100% hydration. Go to Page 8 of this guide for more on hydration levels.
2. Sticky dough is often a sign or an immature sourdough starter. If it seems like it stays sticky for more than 2 hours, even after kneading or shape and fold and it is not developing gluten or starting to rise, then you need to work on your starter. Make sure you feed your starter 4-8 hours prior to baking. It should double or triple in volume during this time. If it does not double or triple, start discarding and feeding that baby every 12 hours until it does! Go to page Page 8 for more on feeding starter.
My bread was rising fine but became very sticky and hard to work with at shaping time – This is a very common problem, especially with new bakers. All bread dough requires a very gentle touch at this stage. If you break the gluten stands at the shaping stage by overworking the dough it will get sticky, flatten out in a blob, and won’t look smooth. To avoid this problem pull the dough gently when shaping, just barely stretching it, if it starts to tear you are overworking it. If you feel like you didn’t get it tight enough, don’t worry about it, there is always next time, it’s much better to air conservative with your shaping then try to fix it later.
I need to fix my overworked dough – Gather the dough back into the bowl and let it rest for at least one hour or until you see it start to rise again. At this point, turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and very gently and loosely shape the dough. Let it rest for 5-10 minutes and gently shape it a little more, if you even see one tear, STOP. Put the dough in a floured banneton, or loaf pan and let it proof again either at room temp or in the refrigerator as the recipe instructs. This might not be your best shaped loaf, it’s ok, this is how we learn to handle the dough!
Watch the way I handle the dough in this video:
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